Narnia and Tolkien, Yes. Harry Potter, No.

Reader Alexandra McKay recently posed a question.

You say that your upbringing contained both Narnia and Tolkien, but that Harry Potter was not just considered Satanic, the books themselves were even believed to harbour demons. Why is it that fundamentalists hate Harry Potter so much, but not Tolkien? Both present magic as morally neutral, usable for good or evil, and only by certain people. Is it because the wizards in Harry Potter are mortal humans, while magic in Tolkien is used only by immortal Elves and Maiar? Is it because Tolkien himself was a devout Christian, and his books were partially Christian allegory? Or is it just because Harry Potter is more popular? My Dad, a liberal Anglican (mainline Protestant) gave the last reason, saying that some fundies even believe that Narnia, a direct Christian allegory where magic is usually bad, is Satanic.

Let me put it like this: It doesn’t actually make sense.

My parents didn’t allow Harry Potter books in the house, but read both Narnia and the Lord of the Rings aloud to us. My parents didn’t let us watch Power Rangers because, demons, I guess, but were a-okay with us watching Star Wars and Star Trek. The inconsistencies went further: They had concerns about us listening to contemporary Christian music, but were totes fine with turning on some of the contemporary Christian music they’d listened to in the 1980s (in other words, Rebecca St. James was suspect, but Keith Green was revered).

That all said, I do think there are a couple things that help explain the inconsistency.

For one thing, Narnia and the Lord of the Rings were written by Christians. Harry Potter, in contrast, was not (or at least not such a luminary Christian as Lewis or Tolkien). This mattered. I could point out that there was Christian allegory in both Narnia and the Lord of the Rings (more certain in the first than the second), but there is arguably Christian allegory in Harry Potter too, so I think allegory ends up counting selectively. The point remains that a professing Christian got more leeway and was given the benefit of the doubt in a way a non-Christian or a Christian who isn’t in your face wouldn’t.

A second factor was whether or not something could be defined as classic. Narnia, the Lord of the Rings, Star Trek? Classic. It also mattered when things were a positive part of my parents’ upbringing and youth. The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Keith Green? Those were things that had been formative on my parents. These things were all known quantities, and arguably in some sense classic. Harry Potter, Power Rangers, or Rebecca St. James? Not classic. Not known quantities. Not things familiar and known to my parents.

I do remember spending time justifying to myself why Lord of the Rings was okay while Harry Potter was not. In fact, a teen Bible study I was involved in covered the problems with Harry Potter one week, and because everyone there was an avid Lord of the Rings fan this was something we had to work out. We created a whole list of why Harry Potter was bad (For example, we marked Harry Potter down for Harry’s “disrespectful” attitude toward his aunt and uncle). As for LOTR, we reasoned, Gandalf might be a wizard, but he was sent to Middle Earth by the Middle Earth version of God and explicitly tasked with protecting the people of Middle Earth, and given the power to do so. So really, we reasoned, Gandalf was basically an angel, not really a witch or wizard (who, as we were taught, both worshiped and gained their power from the devil).

But enough of how I justified these things. When it comes to what my parents let us read or watch, I don’t think the inconsistencies can be fully explained. No one is fully consistent, and looking back it does indeed seem odd that my parents gave us such free range with things like the Lord of the Rings and Star Trek even as they kept us away from Harry Potter and Power Rangers because they were “demonic,” and strange that my parents let us listen to Keith Green but looked askance on Rebecca St. James.

What are your thoughts? How have you seen these sorts of apparent inconsistencies justified?

Red Town, Blue Town
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
A Letter from Hell, and Self-Reinforcing Beliefs
On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • blueberry

    If intent matters, the fact that Lewis intended Narnia as an allegory might make his books “safe”, but if I recall correctly, Tolkien denied any allegorical meaning behind LoTR.

    • John Small Berries

      Correct; in the foreword to the second edition he wrote, “Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

      Regarding that passage, in college I had an English professor who insisted that LotR was an allegory for World War I; when I pointed out Tolkien’s own words, the professor insisted that even if Tolkein hadn’t consciously meant it as an allegory, he had subconsciously put allegorical elements into it. (Must be nice to know an author’s mind better than the author did himself!)

      • Eamon Knight

        If anything, LOTR would be an allegory for WWII/Cold War, with the Ring being the atom bomb — the weapon too perilous to use.

        However, LOTR is in many ways moralistic, and the virtues are traditional Christian ones.

      • Niemand

        If anything, LOTR would be an allegory for WWII/Cold War, with the Ring being the atom bomb — the weapon too perilous to use.

        IIRC, Tolkien specifically denied this, stating that if the ring were an allegory for the bomb, surely the “good guys” would have used it, regardless of the long term consequences-as they did in reality.

        Personally, I think the ring represents power and specifically power in just the form the person who possesses it wants the most. In the Hobbit and LotR, the effects were subtle, but very clearly present…Bilbo wanted the power to be undetectable, to be the burglar he was supposed to be. Then he wanted to live happily in his home without worry. Again, the ring provided, making sure he stayed wealthy and young. (It’s never stated or even really implied, but I’ve always thought that the ring led him to good investments…or how else did he stay rich for decades after bringing home only two chests of gold and silver?) Frodo wanted understanding, particularly of people. The ring provided. Sam wanted nothing of power and so he was able to blow the ring off after having a little fantasy about being the world’s most powerful gardener.

        But the ring also corrupted, as power does. Bilbo found everything a bit too easy in the end and seemed to recognize that he was cheating. In the end, he was able to let the ring go because it couldn’t give him the one thing he wanted now: a challenge. Frodo learned all too well how to get under people’s mental defenses. (Consider how he goads Saruman at the end of the book, possibly without meaning to.) Even Sam…how did a lower class hobbit suddenly become mayor? True, he was a war hero, but so were Pippin and Merry. Perhaps he did have just a tiny bit of ambition and desire for power? And perhaps that’s what made him unable to stay in the end.

        Anyway, that’s my insane fan theory about the ring. Strictly for amusement value.

      • Christine

        I wouldn’t say that LOTR is an allegory for WWI, just that it is obviously heavily influenced by Tolkien’s experiences in the war. Now, I would agree with your professor that it is quite valid to read meanings into the text that weren’t necessarily put there intentionally – that’s how the cultural narratives work.

      • Rae

        I don’t think that it’s an allegory for any specific war, but it’s almost unquestionable that Tolkien’s experience in WWI heavily influenced LOTR.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Well, although it only makes sense to take Tolkien at this word that he did not intend allegory, I don’t think it can be denied that the story and characters were influenced by Tolkien’s experiences in World War I and by the general zeitgeist of World War II. (Tolkien, as I recall, even admitted this somewhere in his published diaries and he did explicitly talk about how certain characters were modeled after people or types of people who knew while serving in WWI.) The same thing can be said of many writers of his generation, however.

        Libby, the fact that Tolkien was a Christian of the Catholic variety didn’t matter to your parents? That surprises me somewhat. Although, what surprises me more is their acceptance of “Star Trek.” That franchise has a pretty liberal perspective, sometimes in a pretty in-your-face, preachy way. (Which is one of its charms, of course.) Of course, I think you’re pretty much hitting the nail on the head when you say that these things were known to your parents while the things on the “bad” list were unknown. People often have biases that dont’ make a lot of sense that are simply based on their own emotional attachments.

      • Carys Birch

        @Niemand – Interesting! Although, I think Bilbo was fairly wealthy in hobbit-terms before he left. If the Shire was modeled on an idealized mini-version of England, Bilbo was a mini-small estate owner or landed gentry with peasant tenants (Gaffer Gamgee!) on Bagshot Row. So I doubt he’d have had trouble living the good life in the Shire, even without the Ring.

        I very much like your idea though!

      • Niemand

        @Carys: Not to mention the less “respectable” money he inherited from his mother. Nonetheless, he is described in LotR as being notably wealthier after his return and remaining so. I suspect ringly intervention.

    • Joy

      Lewis specifically denied that Narnia was allegorical as well; as a literary scholar, he held to a strict definition of allegory. Narnia is speculative fiction, a what-if of how Christianity could play out in an alternate world of talking animals.

    • Nicola

      “I despise allegory in all its forms”. That was Tolkien. He hated the notion that his books were an allegory for Christianity, the First World War, etc., though both of those undoubtedly influenced his writing as they both had a profound effect on him.

      JK Rowling has stated she attends the Church of Scotland, by the way. This is hardly a fundamentalist church, but then again I wouldn’t place the Church of England (Lewis) or Catholic Church (Tolkien) in that category, either.

      IOW, I think the Christianity thing is really just an excuse on the part of fundamentalists who say LOTR = good, HP = bad.

  • Neil Rickert

    My explanation would be that fundamentalist communities are as likely to have fads as any other community.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Exactly…what did the Fundy guru’s that your parents followed have to say about certain series and whatnot and was that more of a driver for acceptance or banishment? I also wonder if there was an element of xenophobia regarding the Power Rangers as that series is originally Japanese.

  • Chelsea

    There was a fundie at my parents’ church growing up who had the same restrictions–Harry Potter evil, LOTR good. I never understood it either.
    Just sitting here pondering, I wonder if it could have something to do with terminology and gender–”witch” vs. “wizard” definitely have different connotations; my mom believed witches (who, I suppose, could be either male or female) were real, but wizards were more of a fantasy creature. In LOTR and Narnia, I’m pretty sure the only witches are evil, while in HP “witch” and “wizard” are just synonyms for “female magical person” and “male magical person”.

  • Chelsea

    There was a fundie family at my parents’ church growing up who had the same restrictions–Harry Potter evil, LOTR good. I never understood it either. I enjoyed bringing my HP to church to torment them.
    Just sitting here pondering, I wonder if it could have something to do with terminology and gender–”witch” vs. “wizard” definitely have different connotations; my mom believed witches (who, I suppose, could be either male or female) were real, but wizards (always male) were more of a fantasy creature. In LOTR and Narnia, I’m pretty sure the only witches are evil, while in HP “witch” and “wizard” are just synonyms for “female magical person” and “male magical person”.

    • Anat

      Re: wizards and witches, there’s Why Gandalf Never Married – 1985 talk by Terry Pratchett. That’s before the publication of Equal Rites, where he introduced witches into the Discworld for the first time.

      From there:
      Let’s talk about wizards and witches. There is a tendency to talk of them in one breath, as though they were simply different sexual labels for the same job. It isn’t true. In the fantasy world there is no such thing as a male witch. Warlocks, I hear you cry, but it’s true. Oh, I’ll accept you can postulate them for a particular story, but I’m talking here about the general tendency. There certainly isn’t such a thing as a female wizard.

      Sorceress? Just a better class of witch. Enchantress? Just a witch with good legs. The fantasy world. in fact, is overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people because, in the fantasy world, magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, while the wizards are usually cerebral, clever, powerful, and wise.

      Strangely enough, that’s also the case in this world. You don’t have to believe in magic to notice that.

      Wizards get to do a better class of magic, while witches give you warts.

    • brightie

      Even Narnia has some magic-using loopholes if you aren’t reading it with blinkers on. For example, Caspian’s tutor uses and studies magic without being vilified for it, and told Caspian that it wasn’t a proper study for a prince–not that it was inherently wrong, or wrong for humans, but that it was, basically, a social taboo.

      Lucy, the pure and faithful one closest to Aslan’s heart (continue accolades here), used magic on the Dufflepud island–the magic she used for vanity/beauty was vilified, but her acceptance of the quest to use the visibility spell is praised as an act of courage, and the resulting magic is said to align with Aslan’s laws and even to affect Him.

      It’s not so much that there aren’t good magic-users in Narnia as that a), as Libby Anne said, openly Christian authors tend to get more of a pass, and b) the word “witch” in particular tends to be almost a trigger-word for many evangelicals, automatically evoking the worst stories and rumors about real-life involvement with “the occult.” If it’s got witches in it, some people won’t look any farther than that to find out what it’s actually about.

  • Nathan

    I’m 33 and recently finished the Harry Potter series, managing to get done just ahead of my 9-year-old daughter. I regret not reading them earlier, but then I was able to read them all straight through.

    I think the HP books were doomed, from an evangelical perspective, by being written after the collective fundamentalist obsession with satanism and the occult in the 80s. Mike Warnke was a kind of poster boy, at least for those I grew up with, as someone who escaped satanism for. Christianity. Of course, the obsession kind of fizzled along with Warnke’s credibility, but HP rekindled it in a way.

    At a huge youth camp in Colorado called NYR – I believe it was 1992 – I remember hearing a sermon/presentation from an English man who claimed to work with the demon-possessed. He even had recorded phone calls. I’d dearly love to know who that was and what became of him.

    My family wasn’t so concerned, for whatever reason, but some in our church refused to participate in trick-or-treating because Halloween was associated with satanism/child sacrifice/what-have-you.

    • Carys Birch

      Bingo – I remember the panic in the early 90s about this stuff. Chick tracts in my trick or treat bucket! D: I think Harry Potter definitely is caught in the aftermath of that one.

  • Nathan

    Almost forgot…I find great entertainment reading movie reviews on the Christian Spotlight website. I found this review of Chamber of Secrets particularly laughable:

    • Nea

      Is this the same website that rated Ghost Ship – an adult horror movie that included many graphic scenes of slow murder – “better” for children to watch than Harry Potter? One of the fundie-Christian websites did that and that’s when I knew they and I lived in entirely different realities.

    • brightie

      Oh… heck.
      Even Focus on the Family’s Plugged In was more merciful than that–acknowledged the existence of “positive elements” in the film, basically said it was a matter of your family’s opinions whether to see it instead of condemning outright, and said you probably shouldn’t take younger kids (7 and under) because of violence, not teh evulz. :p

  • Lori

    I agree it may have been the timing. I went to a conservative Christian college and one traditional fundrasier for the Junion class to do was to put on a spook house (ours was fabulous)! This had been done for many years. The class a year or two behind us stopped the tradition (the students themselves put a stop to it) because it was unChristian. I think the last spook house was in 1984 and it was no longer by about 1985. I think my Christian peers had grown up trick-or-treating but certainly some of them did not allow their children to trick-or-treat. Why? I remember thinking it was some kind of reaction to modern culture, not anything related to spook houses or trick-or-treating actually celebrating evil, even if that’s what people had decided it meant.

  • genderhash

    I’m to old for the harry potter books to have been an issue in my church but Terry Pratchett books were a really big deal and a really big no no. I read them anyway in the school library but felt horribly guilty about it and thought anything that went wrong in my life was caused by demonic influences because I’d been reading them.

    • Nea

      I love Terry Pratchett, but have to admit that his writing very much argues in favor of atheism and punctures grand displays of piety. So I can see why churches would find him cutting too close to the bone!

      • genderhash

        honestly though that wasn’t the problem, the problem was that the books has witches and wizards in. Which is really interesting because as you say they are in favor of atheism and do critique religious beliefs a lot. I didn’t learn any magic from them but I unconsciously learnt a lot about critical thinking!

      • Eamon Knight

        IOW: straining at gnats and swallowing camels. I seem to recall reading that someplace.

        Pratchett really is very subversive w.r.t. religion.

      • Mogg

        Yep. I instinctively knew not to display Pratchett books around church people, and I’m not altogether joking when I say that Pratchett saved my life by his writing triggering the processes that got me first out of Fundie toxicity which was having a severe effect on my health, and eventually out of Christianity altogether.

  • Caleb G

    I remember seeing the lady on Jesus Camp saying that Harry Potter was demonic, or something to that effect.”

    Libby Anne says: “For one thing, Narnia and the Lord of the Rings were written by Christians. Harry Potter, in contrast, was not (or at least not such a luminary Christian as Lewis or Tolkien).”
    The irony is palpable. J.K. Rowling is a Christian who does what she does, from what I can see, out of her Christian convictions.

  • Kristen

    A few thoughts:
    LOTR & Narnia were both written by men in the 1940s (part of the “Golden Age” when society was nominally Christian and dominated by the white middle-class). Harry Potter was written in the 1990s and 2000s by a woman. (Actually, the author of Harry Potter is a self-professed Christian who claims she deliberately put Christian symbolism in the books. However, at the same time she revealed this, she also revealed that Dumbledore was gay.) The age of the books and sex of the writer is suspect.
    Also, LOTR and Narnia are both set in fantasy worlds, while Harry Potter purports to be set in modern England. Setting it in modern England makes the magic seem “real.” George MacDonald (a Victorian writer loved by evangelicals– at least until the rise of new Calvinism, because MacDonald was a Universalist) wrote that other-world fantasies were ok, but magic was not to be used in this world, so it was better not to set fantasy books in the real world.
    Finally, Harry Potter unabashedly uses the term “witchcraft” as a good thing, while both LOTR and Narnia avoid this.
    But it’s still inconsistent and, I think, inappropriate to condemn Harry Potter. The Christian message in Harry Potter is actually more overt than it is in LOTR– at least, in the last book. And Harry Potter isn’t actually set in our world– we don’t have a Hogwarts, for instance. It just looks that way.
    Appearance is everything with fundamentalists. Substance is less important.

    • Conuly

      However, at the same time she revealed this, she also revealed that Dumbledore was gay.

      Gay, but celibate, and the one true love of his life was evil and, not coincidentally, dead for the past several decades.

      • Judith

        Sorry to be nitpicking but Grindelwald is revealed in the last book to have been imprisoned ever since he got defeated and even has a scene with Voldemort (where he laughs at Voldemort’s questions about the Elder Wand and then gets killed). Which would make Dumbledore still celibate, but his one true love was deluded, turned evil, but then after imprisonment learned where he went wrong and even tried to stop the Next Big Evil. However, I’m not sure if that is really better… in terms of storytelling maybe, but not so much in the depiction of gay people. (Still it’s the depiction of two gay people in positions of power, although one is evil, and where else do you get that?)

  • Bob Jase

    I suppose your parent’s house would have burst into flame if someone had brought in something by H. P. Lovecraft.

  • MM

    Don’t forget Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. These were firmly in the “demonic” camp during my upbringing. I’m not joking when I say I was taught that D&D was a means of conjuring demons and unsuspecting Christians were almost certain to be possessed if they played.

    • Anat

      Not dead, serving a life prison sentence. Almost the same, though.

      • sidhe3141

        Wrong comment?

      • Anat

        Yes, was supposed to be in response to Conuly, re Albus Dumbledore’s one true love.

      • Conuly

        Yeah, you’re right. I suppose that opens up entirely new doorways in the fanfic world, though….

    • Silent Service

      And yet, strangely, the person I first learned to play D&D with was a pre-ministry student and is not a minister. If she wasn’t so arogantly sure that I’m going to hell for being an atheist, we’d probably still talk to each other.

      • Jayn

        I’ve been running a game with a pastor and his wife. Given the disdain some Christians have for the game, I can’t help but be amused by this.

  • kagekiri

    Huh, guess my mom was more consistent, all told. She hated EVERYTHING from Potter to Star Wars, and rooted much of that hatred in religious terms, which were also enforced by other fundie nutbags in our church.

    Pop or Rock music made her spirit feel dark, so they’re evil just by not appealing to her. Old school songs…Make her spirit feel dark, so she hates listening to them. Worship music is pretty much the only thing she listens to.

    Star Wars: New Age evil! Star Trek: ugly aliens are gross and bring her spirit down. Harry Potter: magic is celebrated, evil! Pokemon: the Japanese are Buddhist, so anything Japanese is related to spirit worship and thus evil! Also, anime has ugly monsters, so it’s evil! Lord of the Rings: scary ugly monsters, so it’s evil. Most fantasy: evil by definition, or at least horrible wastes of time.

    Anything with dragons: automatically evil, because the serpent/dragon animals in the Bible are evil and they’re linked to spirits in Chinese culture. Chinese traditions or culture? Evil. We’re Chinese, but have no Chinese New Year or Moon Festival stuff because even Chinese decorations for those seasons are evil. Martial arts? Evil, because some martial arts were tied to Buddhism or Taoism in Asia.

    Anything written by a non-Christian or someone not known for their Christianity? Probably evil. She thought (probably still thinks) most fiction was a waste of time; maybe even that anything non-Christian is evil and/or a waste of time.

    It did not make life easy for me as a Fantasy and Sci-Fi fan. Owning Pokemon cards was a horrible sin I had to hide from my mom. I broke a Star Wars game out of conviction that it was evil (damn it, I loved that game). Animorphs and Star Wars books were read in secret. It also makes it ridiculously hard to pick a movie for the family to watch, as she hates nearly everything you could possibly put on film.

    Narnia somehow got a pass….I think she never watched the movies, as that’s the only reason she hated LotR. Left Behind also got a pass, as they are ridiculous prophetic crap. I don’t know how we ended up with that weird Frank Peretti Christian horror/thriller crap in our house, but it was there.

    • Judith

      Are you sure you’re not my long-lost brother/sister? Sounds almost exactly like my upbringing. Except we had some good book-destroying to add to it, every time a relative gave me a book that wasn’t explicitly Christian (Jonathon Livingstone Seagull is the occasion I remember most) I would have to tear it up. I love books, and it broke my heart to do. My father also had a pristine collection of old Motown vinyls that she made him smash. I’ll never forget seeing him in the garage with a hammer, tears pouring down his face as he destroyed a collection he’d started when he was in high school. But they were bringing evil spirits into the house, so they had to go.

      • Carys Birch

        My mother purged my dad of Bob Dylan… he’s “vulgar.” Some things about my life make me unutterably sad. The idea that my dad couldn’t like Bob Dylan is somehow on the list, as trivial as it is.

      • Mogg

        My Dad had a copy of Imagine that he could only play when Mum was out of the house due to it being evil to say “Imagine there’s no Heaven…”. She eventually sold it and all his other records, mostly from the 60′s and 70′s, in a garage sale. That was not so much about them being evil as that she was on a cleaning spree and was being thoughtless – she put my Christian vinyl in the same pile, and I had to grab them back. Someone would have bought them, too, we lived near a Bible College at the time and quite a lot of the furniture and stuff got sold to students from there.

        I feel I should add I have long since got rid myself of the Christian vinyl. Still have a lot of CD’s, though. I might have to have a cleaning spree and garage sale.

  • UrsulaL

    Another point may be a practical aspect of familiarity.

    Your parents seem to have been more comfortable exposing you to things that they were familiar with and considered okay (for whatever reason) than to something they were unfamiliar with, even if they had heard it was good.

    Tolkien and Lewis were things they were already familiar with, and liked. And were therefore okay.

    To gain the same level of familiarity with Rowling, they would have had to take the time to read her books. Which is time they may not have had to spend on that task. And since she is still alive and writing, they had to consider the possibility that even if they read and approved of what she had written thus far, she might write something that they didn’t like in a new book, and they may have felt obliged to cut you off mid-series. Which would have been downright cruel. Imagine if they were fine through the end of book 5, but disapproved of 6, and you were left with the horrible ending of 5 as a stopping point!

    So approving what they knew while forbidding what was new was a practical, efficient choice.

    • Alice

      I agree lack of knowledge probably had a lot to do with it. When I was growing up, Mom wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter because supposedly the author was a witch herself and the witchcraft in the books accurately described what modern-day witches do. Mom never touched the books herself or even read credible second-hand sources; she got this “information” from other paranoid fundamentalists.

      This demonstrates why I wanted to SCREAM every time my dad got upset at me for reading primary sources written by non-Christians (for instance, works about science and philosophy) instead of reading the information filtered through a Christian author, and every time Dad gave a big speech about how all scientists are a bunch of liars who lie every day to keep their job. Hey, as long as someone says they’re a Christian, it’s IMPOSSIBLE for them to lie and they have no secret agenda what-so-ever. Ain’t that nice? After all, books are seductive: it’s impossible to read one without falling into the author’s elaborate trap. That’s why we need to read the Bible a lot more than anything else and make non-Christians read it too, then they’ll have no choice but to believe.

      • Hilary

        I work in a protien biochemistry lab – thanks for wanting to stick up for scientists. No, we don’t lie every day for the express purpose of tricking gullible civilians into believing nefarious lies from satan.

        For people who lie every day for their jobs, I’d try the marketing department. Or Michelle Bachmann.

      • Hilary

        Protein Biochemistry – crap I can’t spell today. There are days when I hate the English language with all my heart, even though it’s the only one I’m fluent it. I just can’t spell words right, there’s no consistancy in the rules for its phonetics. It drives me nuts. I purify cytokines – there I spelled that one right.


    • ScottInOH

      That was my thought as I read Libby Anne’s post. They were OK with the old stuff, since they hadn’t been damaged by it, but they were afraid of the new stuff, since they didn’t know what it would do. Presumably, this was also fueled by conversations and literature within their CP/QF circle.

      I think most everyone has some version of this tendency. There are things we are comfortable with and things we are uncomfortable with, for whatever reason, and we come up with post hoc justifications for it. For some people, the justifications are that the good things are holy and the bad ones are demonic. And for people who think the world is a battleground for angels/demons or good/evil, there is very little–not art, literature, news reports, habits of dress, natural events, social mores, chance encounters, or much of anything–that is not either holy or demonic.

      • The Other Weirdo

        @Hillary: Put your mind at ease. English is not a phonetically spelled language. Its spelling is based on convention rather than hard and fast rules. Think the word “Colonel”. There is a reason we don’t pronounce it anywhere near the way it’s spelled. Once you learn to love this simple fact, the rest will fall into place and you will no longer have to curse it. :)

      • Jenora Feuer

        Or, more to the point with regards to Hillary and The Other Weirdo… English started as a phonetically spelled language. Then it absorbed words from other languages, but kept both the foreign spelling and something close to the foreign pronunciation, so many words use non-English phonetics rules. And then we changed the pronunciations of a lot of words while keeping the old spelling. (See the Great Vowel Shift. Note that German changed the pronunciation of a lot of words like English did, but they mostly changed their spellings as well to match.)

        Nowadays, part of the problem is… people keep talking about matching the spelling to the pronunciation again, but which variant of the pronunciation from the many dozens of different dialects of English do you use as the standard?

  • Gail

    My mother was a very devout Southern Baptist, but she was also an English teacher. She let us read pretty much whatever we wanted. She was actually the first of anyone in our family to read Harry Potter for one of her masters’ English Education classes. I think she figured that we were intelligent enough to tell the difference in fact and fiction, and she was probably happy that we got excited about reading at all.

    We once mentioned something about Harry Potter at our grandmother’s house, and my grandmother immediately went off on a tirade about how those books are Satanic, etc. She’d never read them, of course, but probably heard it from someone at her church. My mother immediately said that no, the books are not like that, they are just fantasy fiction, but I doubt my grandmother believed her. My mother teaches in the same county where a woman tried to have the books banned several years back (about 7 years ago, I think?), but the county has enough reasonable people that there wasn’t a chance of that happening.

    Besides the context of the authors’ faith, I think the context in which people hear about these books might explain the inconsistency. My mother, while not overly skeptical, heard about them in a graduate class and knows that the fantasy genre is not evil. My grandmother heard from a fellow fundamentalist and did not bother to check up on the claim at all. Harry Potter isn’t really her type of book at all, but if she’d heard about the book in a neutral context, she might not have become so biased. For some reason, if one fundamentalist thinks something is bad, the rest take his/her word for it.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Your parents were much like mine, but my dad’s brother wouldn’t allow Lewis or Tolkein in the house. I’m not sure what he had against Tolkein. It may have been that he was a Catholic. He thought lEwis’s theology was too liberal, to put it gently, because of the ending of the Last Battle. Lewis beleived that while Christianity was the correct relgion, God would punish followers of other religions for beign wrong so long as they were sincere in their attempts to do good, which was pretty bad heresy.

    • Karen

      I think you mean WOULDN’T punish other believers. (I’m only making this comment for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t read “The Last Battle,” where a follower of Tash — the nasty vulture-god of the Arab analogies whose name I always forget — gets into Heaven because he was always sincere in his faith and never committed any of the bloodier sins. Lewis was sympathetic to Universalism without actually becoming one.)

      • Carys Birch

        Calormenes. ;)

        Lewis and Tolkien are actually hard for me to read these days, because of the racist undertones.

      • Nea

        Racist and sexist undertones. Let us not forget that the one Daughter of Eve and Protector of Narnia was to be married off for an alliance (Horse and His Boy) and then kicked out entirely as “no longer a friend” – for the horrible sins of 1) stinging at being thrown out the first time and 2) growing up and discovering hormones.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I’d say Tolkien has more classism than racism–lots of Great Chain of Being stuff. Even as a kid, I had to hold my nose around those aspects but I still loved the books (and still do, although it’s been years since I read them).

  • Jay

    Honestly? I don’t think it has ANYTHING to do with the content at all. Fundamentalist parents want total control over the media consumed by their children. If they haven’t seen/read it then they’re not likely to allow their children to. That way they know exactly what they are seeing.

    • Alix

      I think you’re right. When my mom went through her fundamentalist phase, a very big thing the church pushed was that she had to know 100% what we read and watched, and that if she didn’t know a show or book we couldn’t see/read it, because we were too young to know what would tempt us away from Christianity.

      My mom, bless her, took this to mean that if my sibs or I were interested in something, she had to read/watch it first, or at least with us, but I know good and well most of the other families took the approach described here, of just banning things they didn’t know.

    • Mogg

      It seems to be a bit of this, a bit of that for different people, and possibly at different times. My parents were big readers before they became Christians, and there was quite a lot of sci-fi and fantasy about the house including Tolkien and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. My mother became a Christian when I was five, and I suspect it affected how she viewed new books and trends. So Masters of the Universe and D&D and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons were evil, but Dr Who was okay, Star Trek also okay but just don’t let those ideas about humanity managing to sort out its own problems get into your head, Star Wars was suspect because of the “Force” and ebil New Age influences. Lewis was fine because it was Christian allegory and other-world, so magic was justified as just how that universe worked, LotR ok as long as nobody took it too seriously. When my dad became a Christian in my teens and our family started going to a cultish church, pretty much all of the fiction in the house was removed – what hadn’t already moved to the shelf in my bedroom, that is. Harry Potter started out being totally evil in our house, but by the time the third or fourth one came out Mum had started reading them and was quite keen on them. I was in my twenties by then, but still living at home and involved in culty-church, so being very circumspect about what books I read in the loungeroom and what I read in my bedroom.

      In other words, there was no system in our house apart from what Mum was reacting to at any particular time.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Dr. Who, a story about an alien damn near physical god, who flies around the universe and pokes various gods in the eye and proves how they were all nothing more than charlatans–except that one time when even he had no idea what the hell just happened–was ok?

  • Joy

    I wonder whether part of the distinction had to do with Narnia and Middle Earth being other-world fantasy whereas Harry Potter is our-world fantasy and might presumably seduce children into believing that Latinish spells would work and they could actually play Quidditch?

    Having read Harry Potter, the Christian themes are very explicit at the end. And I wouldn’t say that Rowling is any more pagan-affirming than Lewis or Tolkien–Lewis was actually fairly pagan-affirming for a Christian, thus the dryads, Silenus, Bacchus…

    • Kris

      Absolutely! In the Christian circles my parents move in Harry Potter books are regarded as spiritual equivalents to gateway drugs. They sincerely believe that children will be influenced to practise witchcraft by these books -witchcraft being inherently evil and demonic, of course.

      • Joy

        It really doesn’t take more than a few “Accio”s to know that it doesn’t work that way, alas.

      • Hilary

        Accio car keys!! Accio – acci0 – - – Accio cell phone – - – !!!!

        You’re right, it doesn’t work. I’m sure that some muggle born witch or wizarding child’s parents have asked their kid to do that.


  • Amethyst

    We had Narnia, Star Trek, and Star Wars in the 80s when my parents were more evangelical than fundamentalist, but during the fundamentalist 90s, none of them were allowed. Narnia used pagan imagery, Star Trek was humanistic, and Star Wars was New Age. In general, fantasy promoted witchcraft and science fiction promoted evolution. Speculative fiction was banned across the board. When the Harry Potter books started getting popular, I remember my parents talking about inconsistent it was that other conservatives rightly avoided them, but still promoted Lewis and Tolkien’s equally problematic works.

  • Anat

    On her old website Rowling wrote she was a Christian, and how important her religion was to her. The last book is full with Christian symbolism, though fans (and ex-fans) disagree on what kind of Christianity is promoted by HP. I know a Catholic who thinks the books have anti-Catholic prejudice, and there is Dan Hemmens’ article about how the HP universe is Calvinist.

    • brightie

      …With Dumbledore’s talk to Harry in Chamber of Secrets about the importance of choice in deciding his fate? Doesn’t sound like any Calvinism I know. ;)

      • Anat

        Sorry to reply so late, but that quote exactly is Calvinistic. Read it carefully, in the COS book, not the sanitized way it is often misquoted. Albus says “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” (And the context is about Harry’s choice not to be placed in Slytherin.) The line is often misquoted as ‘our choices make us what we are’, but what Albus is saying here is that if you are among the elect you will inevitably make choices that reflect your good nature, which is exactly what Calvinists claim. (And Slytherin is the House of the damned. GRRRR.)

  • Alice

    I remember one time when I was a little kid, I pretended to cast a spell, and my parents freaked out and went on and on about how magic is of Satan, and then of course I freaked out because Satan is the fundamentalist child’s boogieman. I was so confused because my parents let me watch Disney movies all the time (except the Little Mermaid because of the witch), and they had even bought me a Disney fairy wand. I am so glad they didn’t ban Disney movies all together, but it was inconsistent.

    My family were religious fans of the different Star Trek series. That was all I was allowed to watch growing up, and I still enjoy watching it sometimes, mostly for the nostalgia. We didn’t have cable so we watched TNG reruns, VOY, and ENT the most. We didn’t have access to DS9 but I don’t think we would have watched it much anyway because it was darker and morally grayer. I think Star Trek was allowed because it was almost always pseudo-scientific instead of magical, and because many of the episodes had moral lessons. Mom used to talk a lot about the Christian messages in Star Trek, so I was shocked when I learned Roddenberry was an atheist. My parents were careful to argue against evolution and humanism when it came up in episodes, and there were many episodes I was not allowed to watch as a preteen because they were “gross,” “scary,” too mystical, or too focused on evolution.

  • Liriel

    Star Trek was okay – what about Star Trek: TNG? Because I can’t think they’d be okay with “Who Watches the Watchers”.. there’s tons of scifi like that, of course. Or is that okay because the gods in question actually are fake, and “of course” the god of Christianity isn’t? Plus, there’s the socialism aspect of TNG…I know it’s in some of the TOS movies, but can’t recall it’s in the series.

    It really is, as you said, that they were okay with the things *they* were exposed to – it’s just harmless fiction. But the new stuff they weren’t familiar with was scary and dangerous.

    • Hilary

      “But the new stuff they weren’t familiar with was scary and dangerous.” Bullseye. I think that sums up fundamentalism regarding everything in life, not just fiction and fantasy. It’s the only thing I can think of that would make fundamentalism look good is if everything else new and different was too scary to deal with.

    • Rae

      Oh, my mom loved TOS and we watched it all the time, but I think her head would’ve imploded if she saw TNG – too much sex for one, too many complicated ethical issues for another.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Kirk sampled a female of every species once. Twice if he liked it. Thrice if she was kinky. And he’d used it at least once to gain a tactical advantage. I’m not sure there’s any more sex in TNG than in TOS.

  • PhysicsPhDStu

    I was brought up in a Hindu family and read Greek mythology before Christian. I was shocked the first time someone told me that Narnia was Christian allegory.

  • Hilary

    I think the real F word that drives fundies nuts about HP isn’t Fantasy, it’s Feminism. JKR is a modern, liberal Christian feminist. She flat out says, “I am a feminist and that comes out in my writing.” JRRT and CSL were not feminists. They didn’t go as out of their way to negatively portray women as they could have, but sexually mature, adult women who act independantly of their relationships to any man in a positive mannor are an exception, not the rule. You can count on your fingers the number of women in the entire LOTR books who have even an single line to speak and still have a few fingers left to scratch yourself.
    (Rosie Cotton, Lobelia Sackville Baggins, Mrs. Maggot, Goldberry, Galadriel, Arwan, Eowin, and an unnamed woman in Return of the King who helps Aragorn find some athelas. That leaves two fingers left, unless I’ve forgotten one.)

    Yes, the hero Harry is a boy, but there is no ambiguety about the strength, courage, power and intellegence of women in his world. And consider how Hermione doesn’t loose her sexuality for her brilliance. She has crushes over a popular male teacher, gets the attention of a poweful Quidditch player, and even when she is clearly already interested in Ron she never dumbs herself down for him. JKR deliberatly created a fairly egalitarian wizarding society, at least that the power of a person’s magic is not tied to gender, so a witch can be equal in magical strenght to a wizard in battle.

    A teenage boy and girl who work together, openly communicate plans and feelings, play in co-ed sports teams, and balance each other’s strenghts and weaknesses in a non-sexual friendship untouched by adult control or courtship rules would shake the foundations of American fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity, from what I’ve learned on this website. Never mind their wands and broomsticks, Harry and Hermione just as friends would be enough to earn the wrath of the type of fundamentalism that Libby and others have described here.


    • centauri

      “A teenage boy and girl who work together, openly communicate plans and feelings, play in co-ed sports teams, and balance each other’s strenghts and weaknesses in a non-sexual friendship untouched by adult control or courtship rules would shake the foundations of American fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity, from what I’ve learned on this website. Never mind their wands and broomsticks, Harry and Hermione just as friends would be enough to earn the wrath of the type of fundamentalism that Libby and others have described here.”

      Spot on!

    • Karen

      I completely agree with this. Hogwarts, and the wizarding world in general, is thoroughly egalitarian, although I do think Rowling made mothers nicer than women without children. (There is an excellent graduate paper in comparing Narcissa Malfoy and her sister, Bellatrix Lestrange.) JRRT, as you note, doesn’t even write many women into his story, and all of them except Eowin and Galadriel are Earth Mothers. Lewis is rather worse, since all his villains are independent adult women who assume authority for themselves. I think Lewis’s mother’s death when he was nine, and his father’s breakdown resulting from her death, caused him to blame all women for his misery. Lewis’s mother was, IIRC, actually a math professor at the University of Belfast in the late 19th Century. Lewis’s father sent his two sons to an exceptionally abusive boarding school after his wife died, and then proceeded to sink into alcoholism. It isn’t too difficult to see how Lewis would blame his wonderful mother for dying and causing all his wretchedness, and then blaming all other women as well.

      • Hilary

        Yeah, I know that about CS Lewis’s history, and I’m sure it played a hand in his writing. Girls are ok, so long as they haven’t started puberty, but grown independant women don’t fare well in his fantasy world. One thing I love about JRK’s feminism is that she embraces women’s choices to stay home as well as to work. A stay at home mother – Molly – is just as powerful a witch as a working woman – McGonagle. There isn’t a woman who works and has a family, but that may have been the limits of what the narrative covered. I never got the feeling that a woman couldn’t have both a family and a job, just that in the 7 years of the story from Harry’s POV he doesn’t see much of the general wizarding world where he would meet such a family.

        BTW, I don’t think Lobelia Sackville Baggins counts as an Earth mother type, and the two Elven women are more ‘ethereal untouchable goddess above mere mortal men’ type women. I mean, can you imagine Galadriel or Arwen getting their periods? I once wondered if the reason for the diminishing of the Elven people was because all the Elven women hit menopause and there weren’t any child-bearing aged Elven women left, so as a race they couldn’t have any more children, but where still immortal so they didn’t all die.


      • Anat

        There is one woman who works and has a family: Madame Edgecombe. Because if you work outside the home (even if your child is away at boarding school) your child will turn into a loathsome traitor (well, according to Rowling; I find Marietta understandable and am horrified by her treatment).

        I personally think Rowling fails at feminism. In her world girls supposedly have equal opportunities to boys (except they are apparently expected to homeschool, there aren’t wizarding elementary schools, and keeping the spontaneous magic of children secret in a Muggle school is hard, possibly dangerous), but will not have the same level of worthwhile achievements as boys. Hermione can quote the textbooks forwards and backwards, but she will never be half as creative as the Marauders, Severus Snape or the Weasley twins. The only woman in canon who experimented with new knowledge is Luna’s unnamed mother – who died as a result of her experimentation. And then there’s the Triwizard Tournament, where the only female contestant is the worst off in all 3 events.

        We are told women can be Heads of the school, but we are shown 4 male Headmasters (with Minerva McGonagall as the occasional replacement). We are told women can be Ministers, but we are shown 3 male Ministers. Through ex-canon information one can dig up the factoid that Bagnold, mentioned in passing in canon as the Minister before Cornelius Fudge was a woman (first name: Milicent). In canon she is completely overshadowed by Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. In contrast, in later years the DMLE Head is a woman (Amelia Bones) who is completely overshadowed by Minister Cornelius Fudge (and just as the latter is removed from office she is assassinated, thus removed from the story before giving us chance to see her in action). Potterverse – not as egalitarian as advertised.

      • brightie

        Lewis-in-Narnia is worse in the villain gender department.
        Space Trilogy weighs the villains heavily towards the male and has more visible female characters, but also has a possible exaggerated butch lesbian and a definite straw feminist.
        Till We Have Faces actually has a sympathetic FMC for a point of view character, possibly because it was written after he was in a relationship.

      • Niemand

        I mean, can you imagine Galadriel or Arwen getting their periods?

        Thank you for that image. Arwen, at least, must have menses, though, since she and Aragorn have at least one child together who carries on the line when Aragorn dies.

      • Conuly

        well, according to Rowling; I find Marietta understandable and am horrified by her treatment

        Anat, I will say that I’ve always considered Hermione to have a real vicious streak running through her. Being smart doesn’t help, it allows her to assume that of course she’s right because she’s smarter than everybody else.

        But the one who really pisses me off is Molly Weasley, the epitome of motherhood, except for all the ways she’s not. JKR isn’t good at evaluating behavior other than “what the good guys do is good”, though.

      • Bobby

        Conuly> I agree with you about Hermione being vicious. Think about how she left Umbridge to the centaurs in book 5. Now, centaurs as creatures are notorious for raping human women, or at least trying to. See Hercules’s wife. Though in-universe, you could make a case that this is anti-centaur propaganda. Anyways, a girl like Hermione, walking library that she is, would likely know this, especially considering that she’s been in Care of Magical Creatures for two years, and has likely read more than one book about the subject. I know that’s probably not how J.K. Rowling intended it to come across, but anyone with a little bit of background knowledge would be horrified by that. I know I was.
        That link leads to a chapter of a story someone wrote to explore what might have happened at moments in the Harry Potter series where things might have gone differently if someone had just stopped and said, “Wait, what?” That particular chapter is Harry calling out Hermione for the evil of modifying her parent’s memories and explaining why it makes no sense. A funny thing is, go and get your copy of Deathly Hallows and read the part where Hermione admits to modifying her parent’s memories. Then, skip forward to where they knocked out the Death Eaters in the cafe and are discussing what to do with them, and read what Hermione says about memory charms. It’s unintentionally hilarious.
        Hermione is my favorite character, but she’s really not a good person, or at least she’s not if you interpret her actions in a certain way.
        Here’s the first chapter in that story.

    • Carys Birch

      The unnamed woman in ROTK is named Ioreth. ;) I spent a LOT of time with these books as a preteen/teen/college student.

      • brightie

        Eep. Beat me to it, I should’ve read further. :)

    • brightie

      The woman in the Houses of Healing was Ioreth, and besides helping Aragorn find Athelas she also apparently tried his patience by talking about trivial womyn things while he had serious life-saving work to do.

    • Niemand

      Rose Cotton has a line? I’d forgotten that…

  • Sharla Hulsey

    The whole “Harry Potter is Satanic” nonsense started with an article on The Onion’s website, in which J.K. Rowling was purported to have said that she was a witch and the goal of HP was to recruit boys and girls to be real witches and wizards. Of course The Onion is satirical; but fundies apparently didn’t understand that (sense-of-humor-challenged, perhaps?) and thought it was actual, literal fact.

    Part of the objection was that J.K. Rowling was supposedly not Christian, while Tolkien and Lewis were. Turns out she is a Christian, just not as vocal about it as others.

    In the early days of the HP phenomenon, you used to could get Harry Potter band-aids that had bits that glowed in the dark. I had a colleague who was very anti-HP, and whenever he and I were going to be working together, and I somehow had a papercut or something, I would wear one of those just to see what he’d say.

  • saraquill

    I remember hearing that Harry Potter was evil but Narnia was all right because the former had grey areas, whereas the latter was black and white.

  • Hilary

    Here’s a piece of obscure Harry Potter trivia for Libby’s Jewish readers – I found on wikipedia an article about all the languages that HP has been translated into. The Hebrew language edition of Harry Potter changes James Potter to Jakob – Yakov – Potter. Since James isn’t a Hebrew name and there is no ‘J’ sound in Hebrew, the translaters settled on Jacob/Yakov. So Harry’s Israeli name is Harry Jacob Potter. Or Harry bar Yakov v’Shoshanah for an aliyah. (Shoshanah is translated as both lily and rose). I wonder what the Torah parasha (portion) for the end of July in 1980 was – what would be his Bar Mitzvah parashah? Would Jewish wizards and rabbis use their wands as yods to read the Torah with?

    In the 5th book, where the English edition has Sirius singing “God rest you merry hippogryph” during Christmas at Grimmauld Place, the Hebrew edition has instead “Mi y’milel” from the Hanukkah song ‘Who can retell’ since the Israeli translaters didn’t think too many Israeli kids would be familiar with the changed Christmas carol.

    Best of all – Daniel Radcliffe is an atheist Jew.


    • Anat

      And Harry was often taken as an equivalent of the Yiddish name ‘Hersch’ which means ‘deer’. So no wonder his Patronus is a stag.

      • Eamon Knight

        As in: my wife’s late zaide: Herschel, or Harry. Our second son, born about a year after Zaide’s death, carries “Herschel” as his middle name.

  • jose

    Don’t know about Narnia, but I can see how Tolkien is appealing to christian ultraconservatives. In fact Tolkien himself responds to that description.

    Harry Potter has boys and girls going to school together. That probably isn’t something religious extremists want their kids to read.

    • brightie

      Narnia has boys and girls going to school together, and becoming friends/allies–see Jill and Eustace. it’s just that the school is horribly screwed up and permissive to bullying, and good friendships formed there are in spite of, not because of, the system. :p

      • jose

        Theory = debunked. Oh well.

      • Anat

        Hogwarts is also permissive of bullying. The Marauders’ antics, the Ravenclaws stealing Luna’s belongings, just for starters.

      • Christine

        Permissive, yes, but it wasn’t trying to encourage it as an educational fad. It apparently hasn’t actually died out yet, despite the obvious issues with it.

    • Conuly

      Not really, Jose. Eustace’s school is pretty clearly a transparent jab at progressivism, and everything about it is bad. The fact that girls and boys are together is bad. Letting kids have some freedom only leads to bullying and is bad. Being a vegetarian and likely to send your child to this sort of school is bad. Students calling adults by their first names is, you guessed it, bad.

      • brightie

        …The boys and girls being together bit was supposed to be bad?
        I mean, there was the line about how some called such places “mixed” schools, but when “boys and girls together”=”leads to one supportive friendship which helps those involved to resist the bullying hellhole and brings a girl to Narnia,” I think calling that a bad aspect of the school may, at the least, be a mixed message.

    • Bobby

      I wonder why the teachers haven’t changed the enchantments in the Gryffindor dorms, don’t know if it’s in all of them, that allows girls to go in the boy dorms, but not the other way around.

      • Rae

        My headcanon always was that the enchantments are not something official, but that long ago, some Gryffindor girls got sick and tired of some boys that were harassing them, and did the enchantments themselves. And then everyone after them assumed that it was the teachers that put the enchantments up.

  • Theo

    I checked the HP series out from the library two summers ago–at the age of 23–so I’d finally be able to carry on a conversation about it with…literally everyone else. Guess I got tired of nodding and going, “Oh yeah, Harry Potter, of course.” When my mother found them stacked on the communal library bookshelf, she threw a fit and cried and screamed for two hours, eventually calming down enough to leave me with a warning to “be careful” and to stop reading immediately if something “felt wrong.” But then of course I distinctly remember part of my jr. high current events (homeschool) program requiring me to elaborate on the dangers inherent in the books, based largely on the aforementioned Onion article about children selling their souls to the devil and joining Rowling’s Satanic cult. Throw around a descriptor like “Satanic,” even in jest or as a result of serious lack of comprehension, and you’ll find yourself with a banned book and a witch hunt ~so fast~. The same thing happened in high school when I grew curious about the emergent church and started doing some extensive reconstructive reading; somebody (who only read an excerpt, for one thing) wrote a damning review, someone at the church (who hadn’t read the book) spread the hysteria, and my parents (who hadn’t read the book) forbade me to read any religious texts by any authors they hadn’t preapproved.

    (Interestingly, unlike many of you, I grew up quite /without/ Star Trek. A friend of mine suggested perhaps this was due to the show’s themes of humanism and egalitarianism, which…yeah, that works out. Star Wars, with its explicit, choice-based [yet divorced from any actual sense of ethics] dichotomy of “good” and “evil,” was totally fine.)

  • Little Magpie

    @Anat, above (I can’t reply directly due to the threading): No, the HP-verse isn’t perfectly egalitarian, but I’m not sure it’s any worse than the real world.

    Also, on a not-entirely related note, I always thought Hermione was a *wonderful* role model for girls. She’s very much the equal of her male peers/friends (in that she’s just as much involved with the adventures, problem-solving etc as anyone else), as opposed to the sort of role where the girl “sidekick” is basically standing around being pretty cheering from the sidelines. She’s smart as a whip, and that’s her strength as a character. In our modern society where our girls are incessantly socialized to be pretty and not-smart, that’s pretty powerful. (And while towards the end of the series – especially in the movies – you do also have her growing up into an attractive young woman – that still stays secondary to her awesome smartness.)
    Also – that time she punches Draco when he’s being even more than usually insufferable? Epic.

    • Anat

      Hermione is a terrible role-model in so many ways. I really hate her moral deterioration along the books. I was so hoping one of her highly questionable plans will fail in the last book so she can learn and grow up. When I read about her memory-modifying her parents I realized this was not going to be, Rowling thinks she is great as she is. I despair for Wizarding Britain.

      • Bobby

        Later on, she lies, saying that she never used Obliviate, after having admitted to using it on her parents. It happens in the cafe where they knock out Thorfinn Rowle and the other guy.

      • Bobby

        Now that I think of it, Harry and Ron don’t call her on her lie, either. Maybe she performed a little magic on them?

    • Anat

      For some reason in the Potterverse violence of girls/women against boys/men is funny (even when it leaves scars). Not the other way around though.

    • Niemand

      My main problem with Hermione is her relationship with Ron. It makes no sense to me. What does she see in him? He’s obnoxious to her from beginning to end. Actually, it’s not a terrible depiction of the sort of confused relationships that teens have–but that relationship leading to a stable and (apparently) happy marriage years later? Come on!

    • swimr1

      I like Hermione as a role model. She is smart and flawed, but that makes her realistic. I would have to go back and read the book to be positive but I believe the punch Hermione delivers to Malfoy was added to the screenplay of the third movie and was never in the original story. I remember being angry in the theater at the time because the director had left out such great material from the book and then put in such a stupid scene (Hermione punching Malfoy).

      • tiornys

        Actually, the violence toward Malfoy is canon, although there are differences between the two scenes.

        In the book, Hermione slaps Malfoy, then starts insulting him but can’t quite spit it out (“Don’t you /dare/ call Hagrid pathetic, you foul — you evil –”), and is restrained by Ron from slapping Malfoy again. She then pulls her wand, at which point Malfoy departs, and she tells Harry that he’d better beat Malfoy in the Quidditch final.

        In the movie, she opens with an (effective) insult as she pulls her wand and approaches, then levels the wand at Malfoy’s throat. Ron talks her down from using magic, and she lowers the wand and turns away. Malfoy begins to snigger and she responds by punching him.

        Frankly, I think the movie version works better.

  • Sgaile-beairt

    what about the OZ books?? our groups had some agonizing over why they were ok when there were ‘good witches” & it really came down to ‘because the parents remembered the m fondly” too….

    • brightie

      Hm, good question.
      Trying to think… Oz is also a fairytale whimsy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and the witches seem to be… all local inhabitants with possible physiological differences from earth-normal humans, never POV protagonists with real-world connections. I guess if you were looking for an excuse, that might contribute. :p

    • Brian Lynch

      There was a Christian movie review website that would take points off for any use of magic, or for ‘scary scenes’, or for talking back to parents for any reason. They gave Mary Poppins a perfect score, and their review was hilarious as they bent over backwards to justify it, with the clear subtext being “I liked it when I was a kid.”

  • Rebecca

    I read Harry Potter in college in one of my attempts to educate myself on pop culture. I wasn’t overly excited at the prospect, not really being into fantasy, but I read all the books that were out in week one summer (did nothing else, much to my mother’s annoyance) and then had a HP movie marathon on my laptop in my room. I remember thinking to myself after reading Book #1, THAT is bad?! What is the big deal exactly? I laugh at myself at how much of fan I am of Harry Potter -who would have thought? When the next movie came out I went with my roommate to the midnight showing and we waited in a line that wrapped around the block several times. Turns out I’m quite the Potter geek. I really can’t get into TLOTR however – someone gave me a copy of The Hobbit for my birthday after hearing I had never read it and it was the most boring thing I ever read – I had force myself to finish it. And I’ve always been a huge bookworm who will read anything lying around…

    • Conuly

      The movie is supposed to be better because instead of all that endless description you get to just SEE the fantastic scenery and move on to the plot.

      • Jayn

        Key word, of course, being ‘supposed’. The LOTR movies were more bearable than the books (I gave up on my second attempt when I realised I’d forgotten the plot after 2 pages of pure description) but I still found them fairly boring.

        I’ve been attempting to reread Narnia lately, and one thing I’ve noticed (which also holds true in LOTR, at least for Frodo) is that the protagonists don’t really do much. Most of their actions are actually directed by other people–they’re told to do something and they do it. Which I can see being a point in favour of those books for the fundies, unlike Harry Potter where he pretty flagrantly defies authority a lot of the time. Though, this does lead me to question what’s the big deal with Edward–he doesn’t really behave any differently from his siblings, he just meets a different person on his first trip through the wardrobe. (Admittedly, it’s been a little while, so maybe I’m forgetting something, but this is a problem I have with the whole non-questioning of authority idea in general. It makes you ready to be led astray.)

    • Niemand

      I remember thinking to myself after reading Book #1, THAT is bad?!

      Well, it was pretty exposition heavy and had some questionable plot elements. Rowling’s writing definitely matured over the course of the books…Oh, wait, that’s probably not the average fundamentalist’s objection, is it?

      • Eamon Knight

        I did HP movies first, books after (and only up the #3 at that). Loved the first movie, but when I read the book, I thought: this is just another adolescent English boarding school story, isn’t it? Mysterious goings-on, kids sneaking around beneath the teachers’ radar, rivalry between student factions, bullying. It’s all been done before.

    • Rae

      I actually had the exact same reaction to The Hobbit the first time I read it, like “This is boring! Why does everyone love it so much?” then a couple years later, after I’d read everything else in the house, I picked up the LOTR series out of boredom. Much to my surprise, I ended up reading the entire thing by the end of the next day and became a diehard Tolkien fan.

      Looking back, I think what bored me was the lack of characterization in The Hobbit – the dwarves, with the exception of Thorin, had almost no personalities, just various physical traits.

  • Alexandra McKay

    Harry Potter really ain’t got nothing on the original good-wizard archetype, Merlin from the Arthurian legends. He was a cambion (half ACTUAL DEMON), and his magical powers came from his demonic heritage, but he’s presented as a good character. The Arthurian legends are also set in a world like our own, just in medieval times. However, they are classics, have overt Christian references and fundies probably don’t know about Merlin being a cambion. Appearances mattering more than substance, they may not even know that in Harry Potter, wizards are born with and naturally have magical powers, while most people are not. But does this not matter to them? Could it be related to the way they treat gay people in real life, considering them “evil” in the face of, and denial of, the evidence that they’re born gay?

  • Sam

    The justification I heard from one Youth Group leader was “Lord of the Rings takes place in a ‘fantasy world’, while Harry Potter takes place in the ‘real world’.” Another excuse for hating on Harry Potter was due to the children’s rebellion — conveniently ignoring the rebellion of every major character in children’s literature over the past several hundred years. The final reason this leader brought up was “The incantations used in the Harry Potter books are actual Wiccan incantations”, which is blatantly false — they’re just random Latin terms, mostly.

    • Niemand

      Harry Potter takes place in the ‘real world’.

      For some very…unexpected…values of the “real world”, I suppose.

    • brightie

      Depending on the draft of Tolkien’s mythos, the “fantasy world” defense might not even hold true…

  • CLDG

    Holy comment thread! I’ll go back up and read everyone else’s, but I have to laugh so hard at this subject. Really and truly, so many things boiled down to: “Dad likes this, therefore it’s fine.”
    Star Trek good; Star Wars bad.
    LOTR good; Harry Potter bad.
    Oldies good (or at least unobjectionable); “rock” or “secular” (current) music bad. [When they feel hard into Gothard, I think this changed.]
    My brother pursuing golf career is pure and wonderful and praiseworthy; same brother pursuing music career is a waste of time.
    I could go on.

  • sylvia

    I have to say, I always thought Harry Potter was astonishingly respectful towards his aunt and uncle, given their abuse of him.

  • Angie Y

    I agree with the familiarity hypothesis. My dad, the one in charge of family entertainment decisions, was comfortable with Star Wars because he was a teen when it came out but weirded out by TNG and HP. One that he didn’t like that people don’t talk about much was the Matrix. His original premise was that he didn’t want us watching it because he heard that it was about computers creating humans. Which I suppose is technically true… but in his mind he thought it was like humans originated from computers instead of god? Whatever it doesn’t make sense, I believe it was truly because hard scifi freaked him out. Then he came home and caught me and my brother watching it in the bada$% scene where Neo is shooting a machine gun from a helicopter and was like, “huh, guess this isn’t too bad…” :P

  • UrsulaL

    Hermione’s mother works outside the home. She’s a dentist.

    For the most part, for both men and women adult characters, we simply don’t know if they have families. McGonnigal might be married, with adult children (based on her age) for all we know. With the exception of Harry and Ron’s families, we only see adults at work. Some characters we know are single, such as Snape and Hagrid. But mostly, it’s just an unknown. Because the story is tightly written from Harry’s point of view, if he isn’t curious about the families of his teachers and the other adults he meets in the wizarding community, then we don’t find out about them.

  • Alex H.


    The funny thing is that Rowling actually built a fairly blatant Harry-as-Christ allegory into the climax of the series — Harry goes willingly to what he believes will be his death, is resurrected, and, because he sacrificed himself to protect the entire Wizarding World from Voldemort, extends the protection his mother’s sacrifice gave him against Voldemort’s magic to everyone. It’s possible to miss that detail if you’re not reading closely, but during the final fight, after Harry’s “death,” Voldemort’s Silencing Charm fails to quiet the crowd confronting him, and his fire spell fails to burn Neville.

    I do think one of the points in your HP vs. LotR contrast was actually valid: Gandalf was an angel, at least by the monotheistic interpretation of the Maiar and Valar as angels and archangels. (An alternate, polytheistic interpretation would rank the Valar as gods and the Maiar as demigods, but, since there was in fact an omnipotent creator-god above all of them, and Tolkien was a Christian, the angel/archangel interpretation is probably closer to what he had in mind.) As far as I can recall, straight-up spell-casting in Middle Earth is something only the wizards, all of whom were Maiar in mortal guise, do; the Elves’ magic is limited to using magical devices like the Mirror of Galadriel or the rings Narya, Nenya and Vilya (actually, it turned out the latter had been given to Gandalf, because Cirdan the Shipwright judged that the wizard would have more use for it than he did).

  • Lee

    Another weird thing about the acceptance of Star Trek is that it was not only very liberal, but absolutely and steadfastly non-religious. Not hostile to religion, but emphatically secular. By and large, it didn’t take on the topic of religion at all until DS9 and the Bajorans.

    Chelsea @14: There are no witches in LotR. There are no female magic-users at all, except insofar as all of the Elves are to some extent. And Galadriel, being both an Elf and one of the Guardians of the Three, is definitely on the side of the angels.

    Hilary @73: As a couple of other folks have pointed out, the woman whose name you can’t remember is Ioreth. And she was drawn as being both vain (bragging later about “what the King said to me”) and a chatterbox.

    Jayn @114: Mileage varies. I read The Hobbit at age 13 and enjoyed it; picked up LotR at 14 and fell headlong into it for 3 days (fortunately, this was during summer break!). Re-reading it as an adult, I became more aware of its flaws, but it still gets a pass from me based on that first magical exposure. The movies have both good and bad points, and I like them as well but for different reasons.

    • Matt McIrvin

      The original series had a lot of “defeat the godlike being”, and in at least one episode (“Who Mourns For Adonais?”) there was an implication that many gods from human religions had been aliens.

      But the twist at the end of “Bread and Circuses” has a nominally pro-Christian message in it, if a potentially heretical one depending on your theology. I admit, it’s unusual.

  • low-tech cyclist

    I’m glad I wasn’t raised by conservative Christian parents; didn’t have to deal with this sorta stuff.

    But how does Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time fit in with these divisions? It used to get the ‘witchcraft’ label hung on it, since Charles Wallace’s friends Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are initially described as witches. Is it now a ‘classic’? (One would hope; it’s been around for >50 years.) And has it penetrated into the perceptions of the evangelical world that L’Engle, like Lewis and Tolkien, was quite overtly Christian?

    • Silent Service

      Ah, but my Dad is basically agnostic and my Mom fairly low key on religion. They didn’t thump me with religion. Just the terror of sex. Of course that was because they had a traditional midwestern Shotgun wedding the summer befor their senior year in high school. It was just easier to terrify me about sex than to actually teach me about condoms, birth control, and the risks of pregnancy. It all worked so well for my grandparents (4 of 5 daughters married after the conception).

  • Skippy

    Personally, I don’t see how Christians can justify reading one and claim the other one is evil. The bible declares that witchcraft, sorcery, necromancers, and mediums are an abomination. It didn’t say it’s ok when the hero is really good and the author is a Christian. As a Christian, I loved the LoTR books growing up and C.S Lewis books. At the end of the day though, I can’t come down on HP and promote the others. It’s either all or nothing on this one.

    Same thing with Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Wars has eastern religions tactics in and all over it. George Lucas admits this. The creator of Star Trek, gene roddenberry, was best friends with fellow writer and CREATOR of Scientology…yet this goes under the radar of most Christians.